Finally we reached the campsite. I was waiting for this journey to end. The long haul (about 3 hours- not too long for many) from the city of Madurai to the summit of Kodaikanal hills in the southern region of Tamilnadu could be onerous for one whose legs are braced in iron- polio affliction.
When I was young, I had felt cheated out of my life when I saw boys and girls romp easily in the neighbourhood. Polio attacking me so early in my life, I know my legs only to be laden with heavy braces and nothing else and heavy shoes to go with it, of course. I can walk now, but very slowly and with great effort. Most of the time I am a constant companion to my wheel chair.
My eyes would follow the legs of the people around wondering how it would feel to stand, walk and run. It was Father Andrews at St. Mary’s convent who noticed my rowing eyes and showed me other blessings that I had and thus my life began with reading primarily and later life- gazing, as he put it.
I developed a skill to just sit on my wheel chair and look at vibrant life pulsating around and appreciate. Here at Kodai, the campsite near the pillar rocks gives me enough to look around while my team mates,my friends, go for a day long trekking in the neighbourhood and return the next day.
While Ramu and Kannan started to get their gear ready for trekking , I slowly started wheeling myself nearer the tall pillars which are 400 ft tall. A smile spread across my face as I thought the 3 proudly standing rocks to be us three- me, Ramu and Kannan. Yes, we are as solid as these.
The cloud covering peaks are breathtaking. It seems they are being draped in the milky white gossamer veil. It also appears that the vast expanse of sky is hugging the pillars and sharing some sweet nothings.
I am already lost in the surrounding vista, but I still hear Ramu, Kannan and Jaggu anna chattering happily as they set the campsite and in another 20 minutes both my friends would leave for the trekking leaving behind Jaggu anna(my helper), me and the silence to savour the entire surroundings for the next 30 odd hours.
The morning mist clears and my friends have left after a quick bite of sandwich put together by Jaggu anna and awkward hugs from me. Jaggu anna( a homeless vagabond) is nearly 60 years old, but a strong man. He has been with me for the past 3 years since the day he tried to take shelter in our apartment verandah during one of those once in a million thunder storms we get in Madurai. I took him in with me against the advice the neighbours gave me and I am happy I did, as we struck off like old mates as soon as our eyes met and believe me he has been a great help to me and he is my anna (brother) now. I have till date not asked him about his self or his wherebaouts and family etc and neither has he volunteered any. But I am sure he will say something when the time comes. He is my family now.
I stay alone in a 1 bedroom flat close to my office- HDFC bank- after my parents died in a road accident, rendering me an orphan with no siblings, 5 years hence.
He is a quiet person, like me. I feel him next to my wheel chair and I look up and smile. We are both comfortable with wordless communications and like me he stares at the scene before and derives whatever he gets from it.
I notice the deep valley being revealed as the morning mist lift and the clouds rise. It is breathtaking. Having acclamatised to the surroundings the flora and fauna begin to register their presence to me.
Meadows and grasslands stretch behind me for about a few hundred metres and I can see the towering eucalyptus trees scaling the heights. In the valley below me, the shola forests flourish.
At the opposite side is the palani hills extending to make the Kodaikanal city and the civilisation has brought buildings, antennas and many such, but still appears to be a part of the majestic hilly terrain.I know the forest behind me hold ubiquitous plants with multicoloured flowers and creatures that co exist in harmony.
I have learnt to go with my sight as far my eyes could take, to explore them and consort with all around. My legs’ inadequacy is no longer an issue. I see the swaying leaves of the trees and sway with them. I notice the birds on them,either cohorting with each other or feeding the youngs or building a new home and participate in their chores. Thanks to my additional pair of eyes- a canon 10×30 binoculars and the Canon EOS 70 D camera of comparatively good power zoom which I indulged with my last salary.
Since then I have begun to view nature in two ways; one as they appear to us and the other, how they allow us to see them through their own actions. You need to be attuned with them to know them.
Presently the nature girl around me is as happy as I am, in her own world. A new day has begun and everything is happening as it should be.
Bees and grasshoppers busy hopping about flower to flower and grass to grass; the leaves dancing about in the breeze as they are busy making the daily quota of food with sun blazing and aiding them in their chore. The distant water falls – many small ones- amidst the mighty rocks across the valley is flowing like a silver curtain and collectively making a faint noise that forms the background score to all the happenings.
If this is my morning feast then after lunch Jaggu anna drives me to the lake- a man made 45 ha star shaped lake and wheeled me around to soak in the busy holiday spot in the afternoon. Rowboats and Pedalos are seen busy on the lake with people in colourful attire peppering the pristine blue lake.
My eyes have a gala time hopping from the happy carefree tourists, to the enthusiastic vendors of food and sweaters and shawls and curios that line the lake as a border and to the horses that give a ride to the old and the young around and to the children who play near by with the less adventurous grand parents watching over them.
The holiday mood pervades into my lazy bones and it even tingles my excuse of legs that I have- shrivelled to half size ligaments which are incongruous to my gym developed upper torso- broad and manly. But I am happy.
Without speaking Jaggu wheels me back to the minivan as night veil begin to slowly cover the area. I have no regrets as I have had my fill here and the night scene awaits near the campsite with Crickets and Fireflies and occasional Owls to keep company. Of course I have the 3 pillars to remind me of Ramu and Kannan. I miss absolutely nothing.
Come tomorrow afternoon Ramu and Kannan would be back. We will head towards our home in Madurai. I will wait for another 6 months before another trip is planned by them.
Every six months we take off like this, a compulsary bachelor break for my friends from their wives and children( both have a boy). Until then the view from my balcony overlooking a play ground flanked by tall apartment buildings will keep me going. I can nourish myself in the boisterous games of the neighbourhood children and equally chirpy conversations and gossips that flow incessantly around when in the balcony.
Despite my friends insisting I get married soon, I am waiting to come across some one who could share my views.